Blaming alcohol, lawyer admits to theft — (The Globe and Mail)

SSRI Ed note: Popular, influential lawyer suffers sleep deprivation, takes antidepressants, drinks heavily and misappropriates client funds. Caught, pleads guilty.

Original article no longer available

The Globe and Mail


August 19, 2006

From Saturday’s Globe and Mail

TORONTO ­ By his own account, Peter Shoniker is a thief who used his privilege as a high-profile lawyer to launder $750,000. But his law-enforcement and political friends would have it otherwise.

In the view of supporters that include former Toronto police chief Julian Fantino and retired major-general Lewis MacKenzie, Mr. Shoniker is a pillar of the community and a loving father who funded Third World orphanages.

The two sides of the former Crown attorney and investment banker emerged in court yesterday, as Mr. Shoniker pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering and one count of theft.

His back arched, Mr. Shoniker twice enounced the words: “Guilty, Your Honour.”

Then, he sat down and broke into tears as defence lawyer Edward Greenspan read a letter penned by his visually impaired stepdaughter and his sister-in-law. Erin Shoniker described how her father attended every one of her medical appointments and asked the judge for leniency.

Letters from 16 other high-profile friends described Mr. Shoniker as a kind and generous man gripped by alcohol abuse and sleep deprivation.

Mr. Greenspan is expected to use these descriptions to ask for a sentence to be served in the community.

The Crown has asked for a jail term.

Mr. Shoniker was arrested in 2004 as part of an RCMP undercover operation.

According to a statement of facts agreed upon by the Crown and the defence, Mr. Shoniker was approached by an undercover RCMP corporal in 2003. Corporal Al Lewis asked for help to launder $250,000, money he said was stolen from the pension fund of a Hamilton union.

Mr. Shoniker readily obliged. He even told Cpl. Lewis he would use his special status as a lawyer to evade police surveillance.

Communications between a lawyer and his client are protected from disclosure by a tenet of law known as solicitor privilege.

“There isn’t a judge in the city who would grant authorization on my line,” Mr. Shoniker was heard telling Mr. Lewis on a taped conversation that was presented as evidence.

Over a six-month period that ended in November of 2003, Mr. Shoniker and an accomplice moved a total of $750,000 into a New York bank account controlled by police.

Mr. Shoniker claimed a fee of about 10 per cent for the transactions. He also swindled Mr. Lewis out of an additional $50,000, a sum he said he paid to middlemen.

And he bragged about his connections to highly placed police officers as he tried to reassure the undercover police officer.

“I’m untouchable, untouchable by the police. Not a cop in this country who would dare burn me, question my integrity,” he said.

Mr. Shoniker has served as a defence lawyer and as a prosecutor since being called to the bar in 1985. He is well known in police and legal circles. He is widely credited for helping Mr. Fantino reach Toronto’s top cop position in 1999.

Yesterday, Mr. Fantino stood by his disgraced friend. He shook Mr. Shoniker’s hand and embraced him during a break in the court proceedings.

Former Toronto police officer Ron Sandelli questioned the RCMP investigation in a letter he addressed to Associate Chief Justice J. Douglas Cunningham.

“Why they would find it necessary to create a fictional crime in order to get Peter Shoniker to commit another crime I don’t know,” wrote Mr. Sandelli, who is now the head of security for the Toronto Blue Jays.

In another letter, Mr. MacKenzie described Mr. Shoniker as a compassionate man who donated money to orphanages in Guyana. Mr. Shoniker also represented the retired general as a legal counsel for a fee of $1, Mr. MacKenzie wrote.

“A friend is a friend,” Mr. MacKenzie said outside the courtroom. “As they say in the military: ‘You don’t die for the Queen. You don’t die for God. You don’t die for your country. You die for your buddies’.”

Friends and family have suggested that Mr. Shoniker’s alcohol problems are to blame for his criminal behaviour. By most accounts, Mr. Shoniker started drinking large amounts of wine in the early 1990s, when he quit his legal career and made a foray in investment banking.

According to one psychiatrist who testified yesterday, Mr. Shoniker also suffers from severe sleep deprivation and was prescribed antidepressant pills. This might explain Mr. Shoniker’s change in behaviour, said Paul Federoff, who has been a friend of Mr. Shoniker for 15 years.

Dr. Federoff completed Mr. Shoniker’s psychiatric evaluation early this year, based upon interviews and observations from 2005.

Crown attorney Jeff Manischem said there was no way of knowing whether Mr. Shoniker suffered from sleep deprivation or whether he was taking medication in 2003.

The trial resumes Sept. 6., when Babak Adeli Tabrizi, the man charged along with Mr. Shoniker, is scheduled to make a court appearance